What is Psoriatic Arthritis?

psoriatic arthritis

Image: Shutterstock/ Lipowski Milan

Just about everyone is familiar with arthritis. It’s an extremely common condition that affects a lot of people, especially as they get older. And most people know someone who suffers from it. But there actually a lot of different forms of arthritis.

And one of the most devastating forms of arthritis is something called psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis makes life extremely difficult for the people who suffer from it. But what is psoriatic arthritis? What causes it? And how is it treated?

What Is Psoriatic Arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that combines the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis, like swelling in the joints, with the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a skin condition that causes scaly rashes all over your body.

In cases of psoriatic arthritis, the joints around the body swell and become stiff. This makes movement difficult and the swelling can leave the joints tender, leading to constant pain. But in addition, psoriatic arthritis also causes scaly rashes all over the joints. The rashes are similar to those that are usually seen in cases of psoriasis, which gives us a clue as to how closely linked the two conditions are.

What Causes It?

Psoriatic arthritis primarily affects people who already suffer from psoriasis. That’s likely because both conditions have their root in the same place: the immune system. Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are autoimmune conditions. That means that they occur when the body’s immune system turns against you. In a healthy immune system, the white blood cells produce something called antibodies.

These antibodies target dangerous bacteria and viruses and destroy them, keeping you healthy. But sometimes, for reasons we don’t fully understand, the antibodies become conditioned to attack your own cells, destroying the tissue. This leads to autoimmune diseases like inflammatory arthritis and psoriasis.

Psoriasis is caused by antibodies attacking your skin cells, which triggers your body to overproduce skin cells in response. The overabundance of these cells leads to the scaly rashes you associate with psoriasis. But occasionally, the same immune system interactions that cause psoriasis causes your joints to painfully swell. And that is the cause of psoriatic arthritis.

How Is It Treated?

The first step in treating psoriatic arthritis is to deal with the inflammation that it causes. Inflammation can do serious, long-term damage to your joints. But the inflammation is also the cause of the scaly rash. So fighting inflammation helps manage both major symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.

Doctors often prescribe basic over-the-counter NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs are a class of drugs that help to fight pain and inflammation and typically include familiar drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. They work by blocking the pain receptors in the brain, which limits the amount of pain you experience in your joints.

But NSAIDs, as you might have guessed from the name, actually help fight inflammation as well. That protects your joints from further damage and helps limit the pain from the swollen joints.

Sometimes, however, NSAIDs aren’t enough. In those cases, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a hormone that your body naturally produces in response to inflammation. They signal to your body that it should stop the inflammation and help promote healing. But you can also take synthetic corticosteroids in higher doses than your body produces.

These drugs give your body a leg up when it comes to fighting inflammation, which makes corticosteroids useful for managing psoriatic arthritis.

Finally, you may consider immunosuppressive drugs. This class of drugs works by suppressing the production of antibodies by the white blood cells. The antibodies play the active role in attacking your body’s tissue, which is the source of inflammation in psoriatic arthritis. So having fewer antibodies in your blood means that you’ll have fewer antibodies attacking your tissue.

Immunosuppressive drugs are commonly prescribed for arthritis caused by autoimmune diseases for this reason and are one of the most effective drugs for treating these types of arthritis. But they do carry certain risks. The immune system plays an important role in keeping you healthy and protecting you from dangerous bacteria. This is still the case when you suffer from an autoimmune disease like psoriatic arthritis. Because these drugs suppress the immune system, they leave you vulnerable to dangerous infections.

It’s up to you and your doctor to decide if the potential benefits of any drug outweigh the potential risks.

But tell us what you think. Do you have psoriatic arthritis? What treatments work for you? What treatments don’t? Let us know in the comments.